|Graph added later, just to make the point that UK is getting it wrong on alcohol|
Sunday, 24 July 2011
Why is no one surprised
Maybe it is too soon to make sense of Amy Winehouse's death. So far there has been no post-mortem, so no one knows exactly why she died. At the same time there seems to be no shortage of people assuming that the cause is drugs or alcohol, and she joins the long list of pop stars who died from using drugs. No one seems surprised and no one appears outraged that this could happen.
So there is the package of advice, take pure and reliable substances, by a sensible route in non excessive amounts. Why can't the government say that and also arrange to supply safe drugs in sensible doses? Current policy has failed to reduce the number of people taking drugs, failed to reduce the number of people dying, failed to catch the criminals who supply the drugs and also probably made sure that the Taliban get plenty of money to shoot at our troops because most of the Heroin comes from Afghanistan. How much worse could a policy be?
Of course one more factor could be added to the list, in the rare case of Amy Winehouse; all those records she might have made, and all those taxes she would have paid, have been lost too.
Personally I can't say that I always liked her music, or some of the attitudes that she struck, but she clearly was talented, and although some of her problems were self induced, I am in no doubt that she was a victim. Killed as much by a media that thought they would sell more papers by reporting her drunk or drugged than they would by trying to help. Killed by a government that would rather pander to daft notions and victim blaming in the media, than face up to the evidence about drugs.
Of course one could take it even further. There are six major groups of drugs, typified by Alcohol, Tobacco, Cocaine, Opiates like Heroin, Marijuana, and a range of other designer substances like ecstasy. As a society we have chosen, at the moment, to make two of the six legal. In the past of course we allowed opiates and indeed fought wars to keep the trade open. I mention that simply to make the point that the choices are arbitrary and based on opinion at the time the laws are passed.
A hard look at the evidence makes it quite clear that we have picked the wrong ones to make legal. Tobacco kills at least 100,000 people each year in the UK, and alcohol is coming close to a similar number. Prisons are full of people who are there because they happen to be addicted to the wrong substances and resort to theft in order to pay the high prices demanded by the criminals who supply them. The hospitals are filled with the the people using the legal substances.
If we banned Tobacco and Alcohol and allowed Opiates and Marijuana instead, we would halve the prison population and increase life expectancy by several years. I appreciate that this is unlikely to happen overnight, but we could at least decide to make prescription standard drugs available to addicts, which would save some lives, reduce the prison population, put some of the drug barons out of business and starve the Taliban of funds. Some of the money saved could be put into helping addicts cope and be safer, and perhaps save the next Amy Winehouse.
If the post-morgen eventually shows that it was not drugs or alcohol that killed Amy; her death will still be as sad and tragic and the policies of the government and the media will continue to kill people, they just won't be as talented.